Justin Turner’s run to win the Final Vote spot was nothing short of inspiring for those of us Dodgers fans in the Los Angeles area.
There are very few things that can bring this entire city together, with each section as unique as its own town. So it’s rare something can harmonize these array of interests, but this did. With over 20 million votes in about a week, the Red Dream was on his way to live the dream of representing his hometown Dodgers in the All-Star Game.
That type of sincerity is hard to come by, but as Dodgers’ fans have come to know, Turner is the type of player who has an undying respect for the fans and the game itself. This mindset combined with his toughness is admirable and even less common in an all-pro athlete. Can this be learned over a career?
Toughness isn’t a statistic, so how much does that even matter to front offices in the MLB? Twitter could spend months arguing over this, but in the end, anyone can toss in their 140 characters and make a case for it to be true.
The human side of athletes is often overlooked, the content of their character easily disregarded when an OPS rises above .900. But every so often a pro comes along that fits the mold as both a genuinely humble person and a master of their athletic craft.
Los Angeles is too often categorized as a place for the entitled. From the ongoing crucifixion of Hollywood elites to the laid back lifestyle of the beach communities – which are incomprehensible to someone who didn’t grow up here – SoCal seems to get the short end of the stick when it comes to nationwide perceptions.
Sure, these things do exist, but the majority of the people here can’t relate to them. From the Inland Empire to the San Fernando Valley to the OC and everything in between, this is as diverse an area as you will find in the nation. As someone who was born and raised here, that is easy for me to see. But I can understand why others would miss it.
For all the misinformation and assumptions, there are certain ideas that are true about this area: The best Mexican food in the nation (I’ll fight to the death on that one, pastor tacos por vida), never ending traffic, an unmistakable set of slang terms, and, of course, its own brand of baseball.
Now, that last one may not be as well-known as the others, but it is just as prominent. SoCal has their own brand of ball. “Grinder” is too often the word used to describe it but the meaning remains the same. There is a reason more MLB players come from California than anywhere else, and it starts with this style. Methodical on defense, unrelenting at the plate, aggressive on the base path and perpetually pounding the strike zone on the mound.
It’s not uncommon to see a sports team embrace the local roots. Baseball is full of those examples: the Red Sox embracing “Boston Strong” in 2013 after the tragedy at the Boston Marathon or New York rallying with their teams post 9/11. With all that in mind, it’s feasible the heart of an area can be embodied in a team through their best player. This feeling doesn’t usually last for more than a few months, but the Dodgers seem to be defying that, and Justin Turner is who they can thank for that culture change.
The comeback story, the kid no one believed in, does Justin Turner’s story get any more Hollywood? Three years removed from fighting for playing time on the Mets and listening to them try and dissuade him from his now trademark leg kick, JT is the pulse of the Dodgers in more ways than one.
It’s easy to see the numbers and his new home every night in the three hole; any baseball fan can understand a stat sheet. Turner’s impact goes farther than that. It’s a stew of the attitude mentioned above with a belief in a new approach to hitting and a dash of that talent stuff mixed in.
Justin Turner is the epitome of a Southern California baseball player, playing professional baseball in a situation kids playing travel ball dream about and doing all of this while always remaining a great person. The Dodgers are SoCal’s team, and their best player is a product of that area, fans can’t ask for much more.
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If you’ve been to a Dodger game recently, you’ll notice that between the top and bottom of the third, the team always honors a military member of the night. What is less noticeable during that time is what JT does.
The military member stands along the fence just past the end of the home dugout and acknowledges the crowd. When finished, they turn to exit the gate just past the dugout but not before Turner has called them over and taken a moment to shake their hand. Mid-game, sometimes before an at-bat, he always makes time. What other star does that?
Turner is hitting over .370 on the year. He’s an All-Star for his hometown team. He’s literally living the dream. For all the hype that deservedly surrounds Seager and Bellinger, Turner is the cog that turns this machine, and that needs to be recognized. I haven’t had a chance to mention his glove, which would have earned him a Gold Glove last year if it weren’t for that pesky Nolan Arrenado and his cannon for an arm.
The Dodgers and their fans can be thankful the team has locked up Turner for the next few seasons after resigning in the offseason. $64 million over four years, $16 million a year, which is less than Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford will make for the Dodgers this season. Either hasn’t left the disabled list this season, and Crawford is currently out of Major League Baseball.
With those two in mind, what a deal this is for the Dodgers. And even if by the end of the contract he isn’t playing up to that money, his character still makes him that valuable.
We in Southern California are lucky to be fans at this time, not only for this team but to root for players who are so easy to get behind and Turner is the captain of that.
Thank you, Justin Turner. Los Angeles is happy to have you home.